CHARLOTTE — 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetimes. Black women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an aggressive and challenging form of breast cancer.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and reporter Almiya White spoke to a survivor about her health journey and how she has gone on to help others.
For Mable Hemphill, two people came to mind when she got the call about her dreaded diagnosis.
“When I got diagnosed with cancer, the first thing I thought about was my two kids -- my two grown kids -- letting them know,” she said.
Hemphill was diagnosed with triple-negative stage two breast cancer in 2019. The cancer eventually progressed to stage three.
“The cancer I had, being African-American, was a death sentence,” she said. “Triple-negative is aggressive. It spreads faster.”
After several rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and a complete mastectomy, Hemphill became a breast cancer survivor in 2020. But throughout her journey, she said she noticed a fear of cancer within the Black community that can get in the way of early treatment.
When White sked if there’s a stigma about cancer in the Black community, Hemphill said absolutely.
“Yes, and it’s been there for a long time.”
Derek Raghavan is the president of the Levine Cancer Institute.
“Mable’s correct, there is some discrimination within the Black community directed against people with cancer,” he said.
Raghavan said Black people die from cancer at higher rates than any other race. He cited factors that include misinformation, access to healthcare and a lack of Black activists.
“The death rate from cancer is higher in Black men than white men, higher in Black women than white women,” he said.
“We might be the second to find out but we’re the first to die for lack of education,” Hemphill said. “I decided that no one else would ever die from cancer.”
Hemphill now helps others navigate their cancer journey. Three months into her diagnosis, she started a nonprofit called Sunrise Cancer Foundation to help Black patients overcome the stigma of cancer by creating a space to start the fearful conversation.
“Nobody wanted to talk about it, you know, nobody wanted to try to find solutions,” Hemphill said. “And so I made up my mind that God had given me a second chance and I was going to use it.”
That second chance could be saving lives.
“Cancer is not a death sentence,” she said. “Cancer is a lifestyle change and a mindset change. And when you change your mindset to change your destiny, you can break the cycle of the stigma of cancer.”
Hemphill partners with Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte to hold educational events. You can learn more about her nonprofit and how to get involved by clicking here.
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